Third Sunday of Easter: May 5, 2019
Acts 9:1-6; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19
“Feed my sheep.” We hear these words of Jesus to Peter in a specific context. We are in the midst of our Easter celebration of the Great 50 Days. We hear them in the context, as always, of our personal life situation and whatever we carry in our hearts as we walk through the doors. We hear them in the context of the life of this magnificent Cathedral Church as you continue to fulfill your ministry as a center of prayer, worship and mission in the service of Christ’s people. We hear them in the context of those receiving the laying on of hands from the Bishop, and through the apostolic office reminding all of us of our connection to the Church of all generations, past, present and future, each of us joined to Jesus by our baptism into his death and resurrection.
“Feed my sheep” comes too in the context of today’s readings, where we discover two amazing encounters with the Risen Christ. One is where we find Paul on a business trip riding a horse to the city of Damascus. Along the way his life of violent persecution of Jesus’ followers is challenged. Knocked to the ground and blinded, he was completely undone. His entire worldview died right there and like scales falling from his eyes, he was raised to see a new possibility, a new truth. He is baptized and Christ becomes his new identity.
The other occurs on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, back in Galilee, where the fishermen disciples return to work at their former livelihood after the events of Jesus’ execution and resurrection. They are catching nothing (I hate when that happens), only to come into an amazing abundance of fish when the Risen Jesus shows up and Peter himself, after denying Jesus 3 times during Jesus’ trial, is beautifully restored to the community, healed and forgiven by a 3-time call to love.
Both events speak to God’s power to change lives, to redirect them for God’s purposes on the earth and yes, even our lives, which occasionally get off-track. Yet be aware that what we see in Paul and Peter is not a mere realignment of thoughts and emotions. This is about death to life. This is about liberation. It is about an entire new identity where “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Notice too that the life-changing events were not only for the benefit of the individuals receiving the gift. Even more it is to bear witness to the work of God for the sake of others, bringing new life into their midst, seeing even in the present moment the new creation, the new heaven and new earth God seeks to make real in his vision of love that ushers in justice, peace and dignity for all people. That’s the business of “feeding sheep.”
Let me tell you of a disciple not unlike Paul or Peter, who in her own life, witnesses to the life of the Risen Christ. Her name is Allouise Story, who does not allow fear or even the status quo define her or her world. Allouise is elderly, widowed, and the only occupant of a magnificent, dazzling white house in the midst of an urban ghetto. Her home has polished oak moldings, furniture covered with plastic – neat and tidy. She’s thought about moving away.
Outside, across the alley, is Doc’s Liquor Store. Patrons are found slouched against tree trunks and get into no-good. This infuriates Allouise. In her house are two pianos and an organ that she plays every day and when the weather is nice, she has the windows open so that music can escape to fill the neighborhood with an alternative sound, a feast of the ears. Outside she sees the children of the street and worries for their future.
She, if anyone, has the right to panic and weep. She has watched the rotting of the neighborhood. But she maintains that house as a sheer act of the will to show that not everything or everyone must succumb to decay or leave the city in order to survive. Her very presence is a symbol of life despite the odds. Ordinarily one might see an elderly woman in the city and think of her as powerless, but not Allouise. She is full of power.
It is said she prays the Lord’s Prayer so clearly and firmly that when she says “Amen” it makes people jump. She fights for good education and good teachers. She maintains the struggle with signs of defeat all around: just like in the Bible events today of no catch of fish, betrayals, acts of violence against people; but, she never descends into self-pity. Allouise sings the spiritual “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” so powerfully that someone said, “No one should be able to sing it like that.”
When asked why she hasn’t followed up on her plans to move, Allouise responds, “I don’t see it the same anymore. The people outside my windows aren’t my enemies. Gosh, they’re not even my project. They’re God’s beloved children. The Lord says ‘feed my sheep.’ I am his, and this is how he has called me to do it.” Plans change. Paul was on a horse to Damascus. His plans changed. Peter and the apostles were looking to return to what they knew, fishing. Plans changed. Three years ago I thought I was retiring. Again, plans changed. Saying one’s prayer can be dangerous – plans can change if we’re listening. We are all being prepared, just as all of you coming forward are, to be ever more clear of the call to love by feeding the sheep Jesus gives us. Allouise, you, me, we are called to live this truth, to be this truth.
It has been said that the great Easter truth is not so much that we are to live newly after death, but that we are to be new here and now by the power of the Resurrection (Philips Brooks, 1893). And Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.”
Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.